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EYE-WITNESS'S REPORT ON JOHN

Caesarea

What I hear from Rome makes me almost glad to be a mere Procurator. A mutual friend of ours - I had better not mention names - writes to me that Sejanus not only is ambitious of marrying into the family of Caesar, but that at the same time he speaks slightingly of Caesar himself. 'Monarch of an islet,' he called him the other day - had you heard that? I scarcely dare write the words. If these things get to Caesar's ears, I shall be glad that I did not owe my appointment to the favour of Sejanus.

Joseph is back at last and I have been in consultation with him and Alexander. He had some difficulty tracking the preacher down. He had to go up-hill and down-dale in all sorts of weather, and was regarded with an unfriendly eye by the Jews who were also on the road. There are many of them on the road, too: most of them from Judaea, but a good many from Antipas's territory on the other side of Jordan, and some from Samaria and even Galilee. When he did discover John - the fellow moves from village to village all the time - do you know what he found? One of Antipas's officers, who was watching John on behalf of his master. The talk was that John would soon be leaving my territory and crossing over Jordan to that of Antipas. I don't know whether I shall give him the chance.

This may be a very serious matter. John is just one of those people of whom I have been warned. According to Joseph's report he is 'half-clad, half-starved and half-crazy,' but that does not matter with these Jews. It is what he says that counts, or rather, perhaps, what they choose to think he means. He is telling them that the great time, the new era, which they all expect, is coming, and for them that only means one thing: no more Herods, no more Romans, no more Governors, troops or taxes. The idea of liberty, of independence, of the revival of the glorious days which they enjoyed under their old kings - it's that which draws them from all over the country. Joseph declares that John has only to announce that he is the expected leader and the whole countryside will be on fire. He makes no pretence, so Joseph says, that he is himself a leader, but he is doing what is almost as bad: he tells them that a leader is coming, and that soon, which is just what they are looking for. I have questioned Alexander about this and he is wise and mysterious. I asked him whether this leader was the same as the deliverer or Messiah that Caiaphas had spoken of. He says no; that before the deliverer there must come, according to their sacred writings, an advance-guard or messenger or prophet - whatever you like to call him - and that when this person arrives then all the people will know that the deliverer himself is to come next.

You will see that from the standpoint of the Roman Governor it is all the same thing. John predicts the imminence of a new prophet; the appearance of the prophet will be followed by that of the deliverer, and then Caesar and Rome will make way for the new age. It is, you will agree, impossible that such fantastic but pernicious ideas should be allowed to spread among the people. You cannot imagine the expectancy that there is everywhere in the air here. Every one is waiting, waiting, for things that are to happen. I have the conviction that the best place for people like John is prison, and that is where I propose shortly to put him.

I have written to Caiaphas asking what he and the Sanhedrim have to say about it and informing him of what I intend. They ought to have reported to me before now.

I must not forget to tell you an amusing thing about John. He is telling the Jews that, in order to make themselves worthy of the great days that are coming, they must humble themselves for the wicked lives which they have led. This tickles me, as it would do you if you knew the Jews. Most of them do not relish this part of the doctrine at all. In their own opinion they have nothing to be humble about; nor ever have had. The new age is all very well, but its business is to set the Jews above all other peoples. Humiliation is proper to Greeks, Romans and such-like. I would like to know what my friend Annas thinks about humbling himself at the bidding of a ragged preacher escaped out of a cave! But I know already. The priests are used to the like of John. There is a whole sect of fanatics of his breed in this country - a good many of them in the very region that he comes from - who live severe lives and despise the easy-going priesthood at Jerusalem. Annas and Caiaphas would give him short shrift, I am sure, especially if he showed signs of becoming really popular. It is all very well for their God to produce a new age, but the High Priests certainly expect to be consulted first.

This seems to me an opportunity to assert myself. I shall wait for a letter from Caiaphas, but whatever he says, I now intend to strengthen the garrison at Jerusalem. I hope for your approval.


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